You gotta love rugby – the frosty Saturday mornings, the mud caked boots, the post-match feed. It’s all a part of our national identity and it can do great things for our young people. To celebrate the game, we’ve invited all Junior Rugby players in Auckland to our We Love Rugby game against the Force at Eden Park this Saturday.
Ofa Tu’ungafasi is also using this week as an opportunity to Shave for Starship – he’s cutting off his iconic dreads to raise money for the local children’s hospital. If you want to support Starship and Ofa’s new hair-do, donate here.
We want to share our love of the game with you all, so come along and celebrate this great sport on Saturday.
What’s in a name?
Meet Akira Ioane – one of the new stars on the horizon at the Blues. Stars are very much part of this young man’s life for his name, Akira means Bright in Japanese.
Why a Japanese name? Well Akira was born in Japan where he lived with his family until he was four.
Rugby runs rich in the veins of the Ioane family. His mum Sandra Ioane is a former Black Fern and his dad, Eddie Ioane, played for Manu Samoa at the 1991 Rugby World Cup before embarking on a professional career in Japan, where he played for Ricoh.
Akira, still just 19, came to prominence last year when he was selected by for the New Zealand Sevens team, making his debut at the Wellington Sevens, and later selected for the All Black Sevens and played at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
At 1.94m and 112kg, Akira brings size and speed to his role as a loose forward, as well as considerable skill.
ìHe has a huge amount of potential. He is a talented athlete, is very quick and has the height and skill set required for a good Sevens player,î said All Blacks Sevens guru, Sir Gordon Tietjens.
His performances were well document by the Blues who signed Akira this year when a loose forward spot opened up and the young man impressed in pre-season.
Akira got his chance to start away against the Highlanders and played well enough to retain his starting role against the Crusaders, earning plaudits from former all Blacks Jeff Wilson and Justin Marshall.
New Zealand Herald writer Patrick McKendry suggested that Akira “might be a seriously good player.”
Next year his younger brother Reiko, who has followed his big brother into the All Black Sevens, will join Akira at the Blues.
Indeed his star seems destined to shine brightly for the Blues for many years to come.
High Schoolers stomping the ground
We’re in to another round of the KFC Curtain Raisers at Eden Park. This week is featuring two long-time rivals: Mount Albert Grammar School and Sacred Heart College.
You may remember MAGS’s dominating performance at the inaugural Westie Pies Blues Secondary School 10s Invitational on March 7. The team defeated King’s College in the final and took the crown, 31-0 while playing on the main field at QBE Stadium. The Blues are now back at Eden Park and we’re bringing our high school talent with us.
MAGS and Sacred Heart are both 1A schools, which means they compete in the highest division of secondary school rugby in Auckland. MAGS coach, Geoff Moon, described Sacred Heart as a “strong rugby powerhouse” – one that they all respect. But the MAGS First XV are ready to front up to this school.
“It’s going to be a full on and intense game on a big stage,” said Geoff. “None of our boys have played at Eden Park before, so there’s a lot of excitement.” But Geoff isn’t ready to highlight any one of his players in the lead up to the 2015 season. “We’re a team, we don’t have any standout players. We’re here to build a group.”
Sacred Heart will be bringing the same sportsmanship to the game. Come along to the game on Saturday, kick-off at 3:05pm at Eden Park.
Sharing the love
We Love Rugby is a way to celebrate the nation’s favourite sport, to share with one another those who inspire and uplift. As you know, the Blues have plenty of players who know exactly how to inspire. You know, the ones who’ll go out of their way to talk to talk to a fan, the ones who’ll take time to coach and mentor. The ones like Keven Mealamu. He’s an All Black, the world’s most capped Super Rugby player and a staunch Blues man. He’s also humble and ready to give back to his community. At the beginning of the 2015 season, Keven was put in touch with Charles Napa’a, the Mount Albert Grammar School First XV captain and an aspiring hooker.
The two met in the 2015 pre-season and spent every Sunday for a month meeting and working together. They’d meet after training to talk about the specific roles of a hooker, the Year 13 learning from the seasoned warrior.
“He’s a young, smart and respectable man, so it’s easy to share my wisdom with a guy like that,” said Keven.
And Charles was ready to learn. “He taught me how to create a bond, how to work together. He taught me that it’s more about the team, rather than yourself.”
The knowledge and training offered by Keven has helped this young captain develop as a player, but his love for the game has helped him grow as a person. “It’s a beautiful game, playing with the people you’re close to, shaking hands afterwards, it sums up why I love it.” And he wants to continue with the sport, with or without a professional contract. “Hopefully I’ll be a professional rugby player, but I’m not quitting the sport. I’ll still want to play.”
We’d like you to tell us who inspired you to love rugby. You can share with us your photos and tributes of the people who inspire you to play the game. Make sure you get their permission first and use #weloverugby on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to get our attention.